Derk Bienen, February 2014

When the World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995, it had less than 130 members. Since then membership has expanded to 159 as a result of 31 completed accessions. Of these, only six were least developed countries (LDCs). Another 24 countries are currently at various stages of the accession process; among these, nine are LDCs. Thus, although it can be argued that the WTO is approaching universal membership, quite a bit remains to be done in terms of LDC accessions.

The purpose of this paper is to provide lessons for countries currently in the process of accession to the WTO, notably LDCs, based on the established practice and experience of other acceded countries. The paper does so by, first, providing a summary overview of WTO accessions and terms of accession of all countries that have acceded to the WTO under Article XII. It also considers recent changes in the WTO accession regime for LDCs, notably the enhanced Guidelines for WTO accession, and draws conclusions from these for the approach of LDCs to WTO accession.

Secondly, the paper analyses in more detail the accession experience of selected acceded countries, namely small developing economies and LDCs. Accession countries which were members of regional trade agreements (RTAs) with common external trade policies are also considered. In particular, the paper takes all six acceded LDCs into account – Cambodia, Cape Verde, Lao PDR, Nepal, Samoa, and Vanuatu – as well as, with regard to the impact of RTA membership on WTO accessions, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

Keywords: World Trade Organisation, WTO accession, least developed countries.

JEL codes: F13, O24

Trade and development discussion paper no. 01/2014, February 2014

Download this paper from SSRN.